M A I N   N E W S

Special to The Tribune
South Sudan is the newest nation!
Ashish Kumar Sen in Juba

Juba is abuzz. As South Sudan prepares to declare independence on July 9, the capital city of the world’s newest nation is busy dressing up for a three-day celebration.

Workers armed with brooms made of reeds wage a losing battle against the dust that coats everything in this city. The new nation’s flags festoon the streets. And banners emblazoned with congratulatory messages decorate the city’s streets, many of them little more than rutty mud tracks.

A digital clock in the middle of a traffic circle in downtown Juba counts down the hours to independence. "Free at last!" it flashed. "Welcome to Africa's country No. 54."

Security is a major concern in this post-conflict nation in which rebels are still fighting in nine of the 10 states. Officials have begun confiscating illegal weapons from residents, many of whom are former rebels who fought the northern Sudanese army.

Southern officials and Western organisations accuse the government of Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir of arming some of the rebels. Some acknowledge that tribal rivalry and disenchantment with the government is also a factor. Southern Sudan’s Internal Affairs Minister Maj Gen Gier Chuang Aluong told journalists that the "enemies" of the state were working to destabilise the south. "They want to portray South Sudan as a failed state even before take-off," he said.

Southerners voted overwhelmingly in a referendum in January to secede from the north. But there are many post-referendum issues that still need to be worked out between north and south Sudan.

When Sudan Prez will meet his detractors Prominent among them are the fate of the oil-rich region of Abyei that straddles the internal border and is claimed by both sides, and the sharing of oil revenue. Most of the oil fields are located in the south, however, the pipelines that pump the oil to the Red Sea port of Port Sudan are all located in the north. Officials from the north and the south are engaged in intense discussions in the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa to resolve these outstanding issues. However, southern officials told The Tribune a solution before July 9 is unlikely.

“These post-referendum issues will become post-independence issues,” Barnaba Marial Benjamin, South Sudan’s Minister of Information, said in an interview.

Acknowledging the tremendous challenges faced by the new country, he said: “South Sudan is bigger than Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda and Burundi combined. It has been destroyed over 50 years of war and so it is a real ground zero, and to have a ground zero of this size means that there are many challenges in infrastructure and development.”

Two decades of north-south civil war that ended with the Comprehensive Peace Agreement of 2005 left at least two million people dead.

On Wednesday night, the legislative assembly approved a transitional constitution after a marathon debate that wrapped up just shy of midnight. Government critics, including some in the ruling Sudan People's Liberation Movement (SPLM), have expressed concern about the disproportionate powers vested in the office of the president. Vice-President Riek Machar has been a leading critic in particular citing the authority given to the President to dismiss state governors at whim. Others criticise the power to appoint 66 members of the president's choosing to the legislative body, which is already dominated by the SPLM. To some, the inclusion of these powers are ominous portents of one-party dominance on a continent that is no stranger to strongmen.

Despite these concerns, Southern Sudanese are in a mood to celebrate. At midnight on Friday, as the date switches over to July 9, the joyous sounds of church bells, drum beats and ululating women will resound across Juba. 






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